America, Fascism and the Failure of Imagination


Much was written after 9/11 about the failure of imagination.   There were plenty of warning signs: suspected terrorists who trained to fly commercial airliners, extreme levels of “chatter” on the internet, the CIA’s grave warning, “bin Laden determined to strike in the U.S.”  Yet we somehow couldn’t connect the dots.  Why?  Because the act itself – flying commercial airliners into skyscrapers – seemed so horrible, so shocking, as to be  literally, “unimaginable.”  The same phenomenon had similarly tragic consequences at Pearl Harbor.  The soldiers manning the radar saw the blips of the incoming planes.  And yet…what?   They assumed it must be nothing.  A false-positive, perhaps a squadron of U.S. planes coming from the wrong direction.   And no warning was issued.  A real attack seemed so outside the realm of experience, it was “unimaginable.”

In Hitler’s Germany, there was also a catastrophic failure of imagination.  There were many responses to Hitler’s appearance on the scene:  he was worshiped by the extremists on the right, despised by the left, but most of the populace started out somewhere in between.  They realized he said some crazy things.  But to actually do them…it could never happen.  Surely, he didn’t literally mean, “exterminate the Jews.”  That was not “imaginable”.   Yes, he was strange, obsessed, certainly very angry.  But…there was also something magnetic about him.  And wasn’t it true that Germany had been punished unfairly at Versailles, and that the world was abusing them, and that Germany was weak?  Here was someone who spoke of strength.  Who despised anything weak.  And who had simple answers: it was the fault of them.  The Jews, the outsiders, the group that was easy to scapegoat.

And now here we are in 2017.  We have a president who says crazy, delusional things.  Who fits perfectly the Fascist personality-type:  angry, authoritarian, paranoid, narcissistic, vindictive.  And a great many of his acts, both during the campaign and during his first week, bear the hallmarks of Fascism:  he encouraged his thugs to punch protestors.   He undermines the free press, calling them liars and worse (Hitler called them the “Lugenpresse”, or “lying press”).   He has shut down free expression in the EPA, the National Park Service, and all around the Federal Government.  He has promised a weekly list of crimes committed by illegal aliens in sanctuary cities – so reminiscent of the demonization of the Jews in Nazi Germany.  Moreover, his followers have the same worshipful idolization of him as Hitler’s followers had of their fuhrer, and are equally impervious to counter-facts and counter-argument.   He has the Republicans cowed and the Democrats stunned.  He is pro-torture as a positive good, praises dictators who murder their opponents,  has the megalomania of a Fascist and the same paranoid delusion that the world is against him.

So what am I saying?  That Donald Trump is a true Fascist?  Yes.  Emphatically, categorically, YES!  These are not mere parallels.  He is the thing itself.

We still have institutions capable of resisting Fascism – the Supreme Court, the Press, even, perhaps, Congress.  But what if they are all terrorized into silence?  If we cross that tipping point?   What then?

Sometimes the unimaginable happens.  Terrorists really did fly commercial airliners into the twin towers.  The Japanese really did fly across the Pacific to attack Pearl Harbor.   Hitler really did exterminate 6 million Jews and 3 million others. Let’s not be guilty of a failure of imagination right now.  Let’s not say it can’t happen, simply because we can’t imagine it.


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  1. I am still in shock that this person was elected to the presidency. The most distressing thing is watching people “normalize him”. Maureen Dowd had an excellent obsevation about this in her column in the “failing” NYT. I only hope that we can stop him even though we’ll end up with Pence.

    ============ from Maureen’s column “Wild Child in Charge” =======================================

    “He is really a unique creature,” D’Antonio says. “He’s transfixing, riveting, really. It’s hard to take your eyes off him.”

    I ask the biographer if he’s as nervous as everyone else, and he says yes.

    “Donald’s manic without being depressive,” he muses. “The only thing you can do is keep him distracted for a day and then one more day so that he doesn’t do anything disastrous.”

    Just like Obama and May, D’Antonio says, “a lot of people over the years have tried to mollify him and accommodate him day by day. And eventually you get a year behind you. Everybody else wants stability, but he thrives in turmoil.”

    • One of the oddities, as far as normalizing him, is how many people, in office and commentaries, had previously declared him, ‘unfit to serve’. now everyone’s worst fears have been validated, half of america is talking opening about his serious mental illness, his fascism, and nobody in power will dare mention it. very disturbing and scary.

  2. I, too, am at the point where I feel Pence is the next best choice. DT is unhinged and your blog post today speaks volumes about what has happened, and what still might happen. I never thought I would live to see the day our country started on the road to fascism, but it looks like it’s here, and we must all resist and fight back and keep our voices loud. Powerful post today. Thank you and keep it up. We need voices like your now more than ever.

  3. I expect Pence would be worse because he is not so flagrantly delusional and psychotic.
    About Fascism, what do you think Ike was talking about, The Military Industrial Complex? Mort Sahl put it well saying around that time, “We fought the second world war to stop Fascism. We succeeded… for ten years.” Recognize that Fascism by the formal definition is control of the State by politicians in collusion with big business interests. We had that for more than a hundred years in the USA but did not use the name. Like the association of Communism in Russia and China with repression and tyranny by a small elite group, Fascism in Western Europe is not defined by that repression and tyranny. “Coincidence is not causality.” Of course eventually the misuse of a word can become the correct use. Has that already happened with Fascism?

    • perhaps it is semantics, but if you define fascism as merely an allegiance of government and big business, then it suggests that it is possible to be both fascist and a democracy. i don’t think most definitions of fascism would allow for that? one problem is that, unlike, ‘republic’ or communism’, ‘fascism’ has no one definition. But in my mind (not an expert, but i have certainly read fairly extensively) fascism is generally thought of as a distinct alternative to democracy. and in fact, based on everything i have read, that it how the fascists themselves saw it.

  4. Thank you for posting this. You are right; all the signs are there. I’m not sure what it’s going to take for people to get it. Sadly, I don’t have much confidence in the Supreme Court, Congress or even the press (who, except for a few outliers, dramatically underplay the dangers of DT). This is uncharted territory for the United States. We would do well to look at the outcomes of other countries that have been where we are now.

    • well, i am very mixed on the press. on the one hand, i see them as very disappointing. and looked at it from another point of view, they are true heroes. where would we be without the NY Times and WaPo? So…we need to push them and hold them accountable, but…we also need to support them. thx.

  5. I got embroiled in a massive scuffle on Facebook recently over the correct use of the terms ‘fascist’ and ‘fascism,’ which served to completely override any discussion of what Trump and his administration are actually doing. The apparent conclusion was that nobody, including political scientists, really agrees on how exactly to define fascism or even what characterizes it besides the collusion of government and corporations, and that it has essentially become a handy pejorative for anyone who threatens the particular freedoms *you* hold dear. The spread of disinformation, attacks on the free press & suppression of dissent, scapegoating of certain ‘enemy’ groups, etc. are easily dismissed if you don’t happen to consider things like truth, human rights, or equality to be high priorities. “Give him a chance,” folks like to say. “Wait and see what he actually does.” Well, it seems to me he has already made it breathtakingly clear how he intends to govern. But what I have finally understood in a way my imagination had previously failed to grasp, is that where I see a dangerous, narcissistic, delusional megalomaniac, there are plenty of Americans who truly do see a benevolent savior selflessly sacrificing his own fortune and reputation in an altruistic attempt to save the country he so dearly loves from the ravages of evil liberal politics. It makes me doubt whether I can even trust the evidence of my own eyes and ears–which is, I am sure, not an accident.

    • You’re exactly right. it is a poorly defined term, but there is no easy alternative to it. It is kind of like a medical syndrome that cannot be defined biologically and so is just described as a list of symptoms, no one of which is dispositive. So in the end there is a statement that says, ‘if you have 7 out of 10 of these symptoms’ you have X. The best we can do is come up with a list of the indicators of Fascism, and then say, ‘if you have 7 out of 10 of these, you are a Fascist’. The use of it as a pejorative for conservatives generally is extremely unfortunate, in my view (and also unfair). Because now we do have a true Fascist, and the word has lost its meaning and its ability to terrify. as to supporters who still see a decent man…i cannot comprehend it. but i have to live under the presumption that my own senses are functioning, and i am seeing reality, or i would cease to function. thanks for the comment!

      • The right in America isn’t different than the right in other countries simply because this is America. The protection of the rich, while dismissing the poor and helpless is fascism, even if it happens in Washington, D.C. We must not feel that it’s an overstatement of the situation. This has been a political reality in this country for a very long time. Why do people think America was so reticent to enter the second World War? There were respected pro-Hitler forces in the Republican party, way back then. Live and let live, has been a convenient way to dismiss the concept of not paying taxes.McCarthyism was Republican politics that created an imaginary enemy and made it real in the 1950s. These are all part of the deep-seated fascist tendencies of the Republican base. So, the second they have control, even if only by a few votes, they have a fascist feast. We pay for being polite and not screaming the truth. The “alternative facts” are lies.The “Bowling Green Massacre” never happened. The crowds at the inauguration were protestors.We must force the news , perhaps even the fascist-leaning Fox, to tell the truth. The berating that CNN and NBC are taking from the corporate owners and the White House is disgusting. Why am I forced to get my real news from Canada and the UK. I even subscribed to Der Spiegel.The Advocate, thank the Good Lord, is telling the truth, as is our friend Keith Olbermann. Keep those big boy pants on , because we need your voice. You have made me happy to be American again.

        • thanks. While i agree there have been Fascist tendencies in the past, and while I don’t share Republican views on pretty much anything, to me Trump is uniquely dangerous – dangerous in a way that is unprecedented. And there are even a few Republican voices out there (at least in commenting class, if not actual elected officials) who see this.

  6. I am so with you right now. I’ve been saying this for a while. People think horrible things “can’t happen here” as if America is so different from other places. They don’t realize how wrong they are.

    • Just read it. I think it is quite specific in being anti-Trump and his government, while not being anti-American, so I don’t feel this is how Europeans see “us”. They see the protests, they know he lost the popular vote, etc. But they are looking for ways, understandably, to oppose Trump. And the more he is marginalized, the better.

  7. Reblogged this on biblebeltsite and commented:
    Thank God, I have been told to calm down and that I am overreacting. I have been depressed and confused about this stolen election. I have tried to pull myself back together and smile, but this is not a time to be nice. This is a time to point and scream. We must stop this group of maniacs, before America is left in a post-War rubble. I dream of greeting the Canadian Army at the border with flowers and champagne, when they come to rescue and free our people from the racist brownshirts.

  8. Yes, indeed, fascism needs to be recognised and resisted…
    As someone who lived at Belsen just after the war with my army father, and has an abiding interest in Hitler’s Germany and it’s horrors, can I point out that the figures of ‘others’ who died in concentratioh camps was actually eight million and included homosexuals, disabled, gypsies, churchmen, protestors, politicians, and even princes and princesses… like Princess Mafalda of Italy who died in one such camp .. while the innocent children of Arch-Duke Ferdinand who died at Sarajevo, were also among those incarcerated…

    • valeriedavies , I hope that we can move through these days and not lose our place in the world, but I fear that we are like a recording whose needle is stuck.We aren’t moving forward, and have a congress controlled by a party that desperately wants to move us back.If we were a truly modern recording, then we would simply switch tracks and listen to,or watch the preferred track. The preferred track must be something anyone could enjoy. So, that would not be a “Celebrity Apprentice” re-run.

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